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Curbing excessive paperwork

New York Teacher
Michael Mulgrew listing image Headshot

Our focus this year is setting the right tone in all our schools. We need schools that are well-managed and that respect the difficult work you do every day. It’s what you deserve. And it is what our students deserve.

That’s why when we hear a constant drumroll of complaints about a persistent obstacle, we take it seriously. And paperwork is the No. 1 complaint our members have about their workday. There’s no question that it takes valuable time away from you and your students. Every minute a teacher spends on paperwork is a minute taken away from helping students in the classroom. The UFT wants to protect your time — the time you need for teaching, planning and preparing lessons, and parent engagement.

This year, we have dedicated staff to make sure your complaints are heard and resolved as quickly as possible. Our 2014 contract laid the groundwork for us to tackle paperwork. The following year, we created a set of standards — and procedures to enforce those standards — that cover everything from special education and parent engagement to data systems and attendance. In general, these standards stipulate that educators should not be required to perform “redundant, duplicative, unnecessary or unreasonable” paperwork.

In September, at our citywide chapter leader meeting, we introduced an online reporting system than enables chapter leaders to report paperwork issues immediately. We successfully resolved a case at a school where the principal required every teacher to write professional goals for his or her initial planning conference. It was an excessive requirement because professional goals are not part of a teacher’s evaluation. The issue was resolved in two days. The principal backed off, and teachers are no longer required to submit that piece of paper.

Excessive paperwork comes in many forms. At one school, special education teachers were being asked to fill out a cover sheet for every student with an IEP and copy two pieces of work for a separate file in the special education office. At another, a principal required each teacher to keep and regularly update a personal website to post class updates, homework and a monthly newsletter.

Another source of unnecessary paperwork is the lack of curriculum in many schools. The Department of Education is required under the terms of our 2014 contract to provide teachers with yearlong or semester-long curriculum aligned with the state standards in math, social studies, English language arts, science and foreign languages. Curriculum is defined as a list of content and topics, scope and sequence, and a list of what students are expected both to know and to be able to do after studying each topic. Curriculum is not a pacing calendar, a teacher’s guide, lesson plans or only a scope and sequence.

Chapter leaders who believe their members have been assigned unnecessary paperwork should fill out the online form so we can track the number of complaints as they simultaneously reach out to the principal to resolve the issue.

Only chapter leaders may use the reporting form. That’s why it’s important for you to communicate with your chapter leader when you have been ordered to produce questionable paperwork, such as demands to write pacing calendars or other parts of curriculum. The paperwork standards do not apply only to teachers; they apply to all members of the school staff, from guidance counselors to occupational therapists to school nurses.

Teaching is a difficult enough job without the burden of extraneous paperwork. Our goal is to ensure that all our schools are well-managed and respectful of your professionalism. And that means protecting your time for what really matters: your students.